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11 November 2022

Making movies in the Cooks: ‘I’m a glutton for punishment, thousands of hours. . .’

Saturday 11 February 2023 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Entertainment, Local, National


Making movies in the Cooks:   ‘I’m a glutton for punishment, thousands of hours. . .’
Cast and crew gather at Avarua Harbour in Rarotonga. 23021101

The red carpet is set to be rolled out on Rarotonga as a ten-year dream becomes a reality for a local filmmaker. Anand Naidu gives Al Williams a run down on filmmaking in the Cook Islands.

Stranded Pearl, tagged as a Cook Islands film, a full length feature shot on Rarotonga, has an exclusive world premiere at the Empire Cinema this evening.

From go to whoa, it’s been the brainchild of Cook Islands resident Anand Naidu, a seasoned actor who plays the male lead, while balancing it with producer responsibilities.

It’s his baby and he has nurtured it for more than a decade.

It has grown to involve a cast and crew of more than 100.

There are some high profile names among them, people Naidu has worked alongside in film and theatre over the years.

He spent eight years fine tuning his craft at a theatre company, studying the art of acting and creative writing, alongside his fulltime work in accountancy.

Stranded Pearl has its world premiere (private premiere) at the Empire Cinema tonight. The movie will be released in theatres in March. 23021103
Stranded Pearl has its world premiere (private premiere) at the Empire Cinema tonight. The movie will be released in theatres in March. 23021103

From there he made contacts and gained experience.

Films Vindaloo Empire (2011) and Feeling Lucky (2016) are two examples.

He’s lost count of the hours he has poured into Stranded Pearl.

The idea came to him when he was working at the Edgewater Resort and Spa.

An island paradise, big business, complex characters, love and betrayal set the scene for a light-hearted romantic action adventure film.

Set amongst the stunning scenery of Rarotonga, with drama, action and comedy, it tells the story of a woman who learns her life is half lived, and a man who has closed himself off from the world to hide from the pain of his past.

Its business as usual when a woman travels to the Cook Islands to complete her latest deal. When she ends up stranded on an uninhabited island with a reclusive deckhand, she is forced to consider that the life, and the love, that she knows is not what it seems.

Naidu approached writer Rachel Smith with the idea.

What eventuated was a 90-page script – equating to one minute of film per page – two years of brainstorming and storyboarding.

It’s been a long journey from the first words to the final product.

Even now, Naidu says there’s still fine tuning needed.

Then there’s the marketing of course. And trying to get bums on seats in theatres.

Naidu moved to Rarotonga in 2011. He is the chief financial officer at Air Rarotonga, and co-founder of Mahayana Films – the production house behind Stranded Pearl.

“In school I was always into drama and theatre,” he says of his formative years in New Zealand.

“I thought I could be an actor, how wrong I was,” he laughs.

“It took me eight years to act in front of a camera, it is a lot of hard work.”

Naidu says theatre is different, in the sense an actor works on audience energy.

“It’s larger than life.

“In film, you need different elements, you need to perform the same actions three or four times; in film everyone is right into your face.

“Any moment you get out of zone, the audience can see it; you need to be in that moment.”

He says acting is a way for him to rediscover childlike emotions . . . “To feel that energy of being happy again . . . it is very spiritual.”

On the other hand, there are the logistics, working with a cast and crew of 100 to bring it all together.

A cast and crew of about 100 have been involved in the film. 23021102
A cast and crew of about 100 have been involved in the film. 23021102

Shooting for the Stranded Pearl started in 2017 under director Ken Khan.

They spent about six weeks in and around Rarotonga with cast including Kristy Wright, Rawiri Paratene, Aleisha Rose, Ray Woolf, Robert Reitano, Rob Kipa-Williams and Stan Wolfgramm.

All renowned actors in their own right.

Many of them had worked with Naidu previously. 

“I worked on the idea and developed the concept,” Naidu says.

“Because the protagonist is a female, we needed a female writer, so I had Rachel.

“We drafted something, Rachel said she was not a scriptwriter but she would give it a go.

“There were key elements and the story changes in a lot of ways, we needed to adapt.”

The script was reviewed and relooked at. 

Meanwhile, the question of funding remained.

“I did not want to take money from anyone,” he says.

“I worked with other people to fund it.”

That involved a lot of buy in from the Cook Islands with multiple organisations here offering a hand of support.

“It’s a Cook Islands film, 95 per cent of it was shot here.”

There has been some buy in from the New Zealand Film Commission in terms of post-production.

In late 2018, they completed shooting before working a rough cut through 2019.

They looked to release it in 2020 . . . then Covid-19 arrived.      

“It’s been no walk in the park,” he says.

However, what movie goers are about to experience is “real high quality” cinema, Naidu says.

Without giving away specific figures, he says the production value is around $1 million.

“A Hollywood quality film but not a Hollywood film; it’s been a long time coming.”

While it’s been a long time from birth to release, he says the film hasn’t dated, it looks like it’s recently shot.

It’s a passion for filmmaking which keeps Naidu going.

“I’m a glutton for punishment, thousands of hours. . .”

So as the stars arrive on Rarotonga and the red carpet is laid out, the business of selling the film begins.

Public relations, television, radio, print and online. Social media, “buzz ads” and billboards.

New Zealand distributor Vendetta Films is on board while he is also working with a US distributor.

“We are going to make this big and take it to the world.”

It will first be screened in 25 cinemas across New Zealand to gauge feedback.

“We have really marketed the destination, Cook Islanders will be really proud of this film.

“This will market the destination without looking like a tourism promotion video.”

So what does he love about the Cook Islands?

“I have been in the Cooks 11 years, I have PR here, I am an island boy, I left Fiji when I was 11 and moved to New Zealand.

“I want my kids to be on an island, being an island person makes you a really well-rounded person.”

When asked what moviegoers can expect at tonight’s (private) world premiere when the lights go down and the screen lights up, Naidu says Stranded Pearl is 90 minutes of entertainment and adventure.

 “What if your life depended on a stranger?

“Sometimes you have to lose yourself to find yourself.

“Once we get older, and settled, we think life is over; you really need to lose yourself.

“You will come out of this film with hope; it has a very important message.”

Naidu has seen the cut but tonight will be his first viewing of the film.

The film is set to be released into New Zealand, Cook Islands and Fiji in April.

He says they will “test the waters” with the Australia market.

Having three Australian actors in the cast will be a “big help”.

Now it’s just a waiting game as the lights go out and the screen lights up at the Empire Theatre on Rarotonga tonight.